On Environmental Pests

Aug. 1, 2006
I find it interesting how aspects of material handling become leading-edge news.

Late in the last century (January 1999), when the business world was wringing its collective hands about the pending devastation of the Millennium bug, I noted that the real bug about to raise havoc was the Asian longhorned beetle. It was sneaking into this country, snug as a bug in a rug—or solid wood transport packaging material.

Six years—and lots of bad press—later the international plant protection community got it's act together, after a fashion, and began enforcing the ISPM 15 regulation; compliance with which means all species of coniferous and non-coniferous wood packaging material must be heattreated or fumigated. The methyl bromide fumigation treatment of wood, however, generates nearly as many environmental problems as the beetle it attempts to kill.

Well, now we have another pest that might make the Asian longhorned beetle look like a monarch butterfly. It's called the emerald ash borer (EAB). This onehalf-inch long critter is serious about eating its way across America. It, too, appears to have crossed our frontiers in transport packaging material.

No, I'm not trying to launch a new career as an entomologist. I do, however, find it interesting how aspects of material handling become leading-edge news. And while bugs might not seem as sexy as say, RFID, they are something we can at least point to, if not put our fingers on, thus they get the press.

EAB was discovered in the Detroit area in July 2002. The species of metallic wood boring beetle attacks ash trees, usually killing trees in one to three years. There are already more than a dozen quarantine counties in Michigan and isolated infestations in Ohio, Indiana, New Jersey, Maryland and Ontario. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, EAB probably arrived in the U.S. in solid wood packaging material, carried in cargo ships or airplanes originating in its native Asia.

Federal and state agencies are launching major assaults to stop EAB. They're not waiting for any international committees to work this one out. The bug keeps popping up in new areas, whether by natural reproduction or artificial introduction via poorly inspected or untreated pallets and containers.

States where the bug becomes established could lose billions of dollars in forest products. Quarantines imposed by state and federal agencies will have dire consequences for plant and wood products industries.

About the only bright spot I can find in this otherwise dismal piece of environmental news is that woodpeckers love these shiny little critters, especially the larvae. And how does this fit into material handling? An item in the latest newsletter from Sedlak (www.jasedlak.com) recently caught my eye. Based in Highland Heights, Ohio, Sedlak provides material handling consultation and integration services. Its June newsletter highlights special efforts undertaken on behalf of Patagonia, of Ventura, Calif. At issue are environmental concerns at Patagonia's distribution center in Reno. As a rule Patagonia makes every effort to be as environmentally responsible as possible—a direction many companies are taking.

The environment and the supply chain are alike—everything is attached. Companies paying attention to the environment now, create better climates for natural first lines of defense against invasive species introduced elsewhere along the supply chain. It's long-term solutions to what will be long-term problems.

Clyde Witt has been reporting on transport packaging issues and trends for more than 20 years.